Ex-cold case detective Alan Bailey spent years investigating deadly rapist Robert Howard’s crimes...
In my years in the police I have heard various persons described as being bad, evil, twisted, dangerous, perverted and sick.
Robert Lesarian Howard was all those things.
In a reign of terror which spanned some 40 years, Howard preyed on innocent and vulnerable females of all ages. His youngest known victim was only six years old, while his oldest was 60.
Self-styled the ‘Wolfman of Wolfhill’, he was born in the remote townland of Wolfhill, Co Laois in 1944.
Leaving his family home relatively young, Howard spent his youth sleeping in barns and abandoned homes, living off what he could steal and forage locally.
As he grew older, this ‘loner’ nomadic lifestyle became gradually worse, and he toured both here and in England in a variety of old and clapped-out vans and cars, sleeping wherever he stopped for the night.
In 1963, the parents of a six-year-old girl in the English Midlands found him attempting to rape their screaming child after breaking into her bedroom.
Some five years later, Howard broke into another house and attempted to rape its 20-year-old occupant. Although naked, she managed to escape from him – but he caught up with her and, in full view of passers-by, he tried to rape her.
In 1973 the Wolfman surfaced in Youghal, Co Cork, where he held a 60-year-old captive in her home and subjected the poor woman to a night of terror.
After receiving a lengthy prison sentence for this crime, Howard was released and renewed his nomadic lifestyle. In 1993 he settled in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, where he started targeting vulnerable locals.
He tricked poor one teenager into believing that there was someone in his flat waiting to see her. Caught in his trap, over the next three days he raped and sexually abused the youngster.
To prevent his victim escaping, he had bound her and locked her in a wardrobe, with a noose around her neck to stop her struggling.
She eventually escaped by jumping out of the room’s second-floor window and running naked to the nearest police station.
Despite Howard’s huge criminal record, he only received a suspended prison sentence.
In 1995, Howard drove teenager Arlene Arkinson back to Castlederg after spending the night with her and her friends at a disco in Bundoran.
After leaving the rest of the group, Howard had driven away with Arlene in his van. She was never seen again. But Howard denied any involvement in Arlene’s disappearance, claiming that he had just dropped her off. He left Northern Ireland shortly after this incident.
During my service in the Garda I had dealings with Howard on a number of occasions.
In the early 1980s he was married for a short while. His wife regularly made complaints of being physically assaulted by Howard, and he had been arrested by us on a number of occasions.
However, her fear of Howard was so great that she refused to go through with the case against him.
Another time, he began an affair with a teenager who ran away with him. He kept her tied up in a caravan on the shores of Lough Neagh for days and abused her.
The young girl’s family tracked them down, but Howard managed to escape.
When the Garda task force set up ‘Operation Trace’ in 1998 to investigate the disappearances of six missing women on the eastern seaboard, Howard was soon a person of significant interest to us because of his modus operandi and lifestyle.
Because I had dealt with Howard in the past, I took on checking out his movements over a five-year period.
I would find that for some of the relevant times he was actually in custody.
But what was amazing was the lifestyle he was leading. Spending only weeks at a time in any one area, he moved frequently from Ireland, through Northern Ireland, across into Scotland and down into England.
In that way, he flew beneath the police radar for long stretches at a time.
In 2003 he was convicted of the murder of London teenager, Hannah Williams.
Hannah had been missing for a number of years and her bound-and-gagged body was found by men working on the Channel Tunnel.
She had been lured to her death by Howard, who had sent her text messages using a mobile phone belonging to a mutual friend.
He was convicted after a lengthy trial.
A cross-border task force, consisting of gardaí and Northern Irish officers, together with colleagues from the London Met and Durham constabularies, was set up to check all outstanding missing persons cases in all jurisdictions against Howard.
Codenamed Operation Faiche, I served on it on behalf of the Garda.
Various efforts were made to get close to Howard, without success, and when interviewed about Arlene’s disappearance, he refused to give up her body.
In 2005, Howard finally stood trial for the murder of Arlene Arkinson in Belfast Crown Court. I was a witness.
We were not allowed mention the fact that he had been convicted of Hannah’s murder.
Howard was found not guilty by a majority decision. However, some of the jury later said that had they known about Hannah, they would have had no hesitation in convicting him.
The Wolfman has taken the secret of where he buried young Arlene’s body with him to the grave.
In time she will, I hope, be found and reunited with her family. However, there are few who will mourn the passing of this monster.
When his death occurred in October 2015 in Farnham Prison in Durham, England, it was the end of one of the most evil men I ever investigated.
Lesbian couple arrested in death and torture of 3-year-old son 4 marzo 2017